He knew everyone thought his life was a lie. They were right to think he was lying, even if they were wrong about what that lie was. Reality became clear the morning he opened his bleary eyes to a hooker and an earth shattering headache. There also appeared to be a couple of cops, but maybe they weren’t cops. They could have been hotel security. But they sure looked like real cops and he wasn’t sure this kind of place even had its own security. What the hell had he done?
These are the important things to understand about the truth. Andrew was very wealthy. That isn’t as obvious as it might seem at first. Plenty of people live outside their means. If you match the Mercedes and the first class plane seats with the cheap hotel rooms and empty studio apartment, you might be forgiven for thinking his business was failing and that he was running out of money. The truth was that Andrew ran a patent law business that was still growing at 8 percent a year. The other important detail was that he wasn’t much of a hard living, womanizing, type A prick. Again, you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the conditions that morning. The truth, as usual, was more complex.
He remembered hiring the escort. She’d said her name was Bella and she was staring at him with her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed. Her golden brown hair and makeup were prepped with the same perfection he remembered from the previous night. Either she’d redone herself in the murky bathroom or they’d never had sex.
“I tried to get you up.” she said. “Thought maybe you’d died.”
Besides her and the cops, there was a skinny guy with patches of gray hair and stuccoed scalp. He wore a blue fleece with the Motel 6 logo over a collared shirt. Probably the manager. He scowled at Andrew from behind the cops - Andrew’s vision had cleared enough to see the Baltimore PD insignia - and barked at him with a little more authority than he might otherwise have been able to summon.
“I’ve got people waiting for the room.” said the blue fleece. “And you’re gonna owe me an extra night for staying past eleven.”
Andrew heard himself mutter assent and hauled his body off the bed. He locked himself in the bathroom. The mirror revealed that he was mostly dressed as he had been. Definitely no sex. But Bella was here so what…
“Jesus, Drew.” he said, smacking his head as the memory returned.
He washed his face and straightened his clothes. Then he returned to the room and packed his little bag under the silent glare of his motley audience. The cops were nice enough not to touch him on the way down to the front desk. He paid in cash. Bella hooked her arm around his on a journey across the cold, icy parking lot.
“I told them I was your girlfriend. Drive me down the street and I’ll get a cab from there. If you try anything I’ll destroy you. Believe me I’ve done it before.”
“I believe you.”
As he started the car, he had one of those moments - you know where you see something that ought to seem perfectly ordinary but feels very, very wrong? In this case it was a woman standing beneath an umbrella and in front of what appeared to be a boxy, burnt orange AMC Eagle station wagon from the mid 1980’s. She wore a knee length brown skirt and a frilly white blouse. An emerald brooch was the last thing visible before the rest of her disappeared in the umbrella’s shadow. No single detail was more than a little odd. Together the sight filled Andrew with extraordinary dread he couldn’t place. He left the motel parking lot.
They drove through a haze of late afternoon winter light. It looked like it was almost evening again. He found a half abandoned plaza with a Giant grocery store and parked near a tower of blue CHEP pallets. Andrew’s phone beeped a reminder about his red eye flight back to Boston that evening. His eyes would be redder than usual. There were other reminders on his phone too. Texts he was afraid to read.
“That’s a late flight.” said Bella. “You’ve got a lot planned for today?”
“Is that your business?”
“You kind of made it my business, but whatever.”
Shit, he had done just that.
She went on, “It’s not every day a guy pays me twelve hundred dollars to sit fully clothed in a sixty dollar motel and listen to him cry.”
“My intention was to sleep with you.”
“You say that like you’re embarrassed you didn’t.”
“I paid twelve hundred, didn’t I?”
“You sure did. In cash. Look, I just want to say I hope you see your kid before you leave. She seems to mean a lot to you. I figured I owed that much.”
Andrew smiled and said “Thanks”, but she didn’t smile back.
“It’s not about you. It’s about her.”
With those words she left. A few reluctant flurries drifted from the low sky. Andrew forced himself to check those angry texts. He’d missed half a day, but there was still time. Jennifer had taken Claire to the aquarium. She’d been promised a trip with her daddy and was going to at least get the trip. He texted back and Jenn allowed him to come down.
When he looked up from the phone, Bella was gone. What he saw instead was a boxy, burnt orange AMC Eagle station wagon making a slow drive-by before tearing off around the corner.
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